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Portrait of Sebastian Fernandez, wearing a black coat and top, standing outside.

Sebastian Fernández

PhD candidate
Electrical Engineering
I was born in Cusco, Peru, located at an altitude of 11,000 feet in the Andes, where we lived with my extended family until I was 2 years old.

We then relocated to the U.S., eventually settling in Alpharetta, Georgia, but I continued to spend my summers in Cusco until I was about 16. Some of the things we take for granted here in the U.S., such as the stove always turning on or reliable lighting, was not a given in that region. As a child, I believed that scientists and engineers could fix these problems, and it was that belief that helped motivate me to pursue a technical education.

I’ve always loved math and science, but I also love the violin, and I even considered applying to Juilliard. But a summer opportunity during high school – the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program – involved a chance to do a research project that asked me to use everything in my academic arsenal to tackle a problem that didn’t have a textbook solution. It was a turning point for me, and I realized I wanted to do this for my professional life. Later, as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, I found my passion for nanotechnology and semiconductor devices, which I see as the perfect marriage between physics, chemistry, math, engineering, design, computer science, and materials science.

I came to Stanford for my PhD to pursue that interest, and today my research in the Congreve Lab focuses on developing the next generation of LED technologies based on perovskite nanomaterials, which are an emerging class of semiconductors that have the potential to dramatically improve devices such as solar cells, lasers, and LEDs. I’m looking at applications in quantum computing, solid-state lighting, and displays used in computers, TVs, watches, and phone screens. These materials have the potential to be simpler and cheaper than current technologies, and could have big implications in exciting areas including virtual reality, water purification, and surface sterilization, the importance of which has been made clear by the pandemic.

I still love playing the violin, and as a student here I’ve taken private lessons from Joo-Mee Lee, a faculty member in the Department of Music. But I’m also very interested in equity issues. Studying both the violin and advanced mathematics in high school, I found fewer and fewer Latinos in those communities; often I was the only one. I was lucky throughout my education to have wonderful mentors who recognized the strength that diversity brings to a community. Here at Stanford, they include Professors Dan Congreve and Thomas Jaramillo. Unfortunately, not all underrepresented students are afforded such great mentors during their academic journey. So in my third year at Stanford, some other students and I started Stanford Engineering Research Introductions, where I serve as principal founder and president. Our goal is to prepare underrepresented first-year and sophomore students for potential graduate and doctoral degrees. We want to show them – very early on – that there’s a pathway for them, and that there are people who look like them who are actively supporting them. Many of our participants have gone on to conduct research here at Stanford and at other institutions, and are gearing up to truly diversify engineering academia. I believe it’s been one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my time here.

Because I have a strong passion for research, teaching, and service, and because I’d like to inspire the next generation and be a mentor, I hope one day to become a university engineering professor. I’d like to uncover new directions that could change my field of nanotechnology and semiconductor devices as well as engineering academia. I’m excited to see what the future holds.

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